The Stories Inside the Quilts

I come from a family of quilters. As a child, I slept under a brightly-colored patchwork quilt, bound in yellow. Before I even hit puberty, my maternal grandmother had created my hope chest quilt (never mind that I never had a physical hope chest). When I married, that same grandmother made a wedding quilt for my husband and me. I even tried making a simpler design Amish quilt myself. By the time I was finished, I was so sick of the colors, I never enjoyed using it. So much for joining the family quilters club.

By the time both my grandmothers died and left me boxes of beautiful handmade quilts, I had moved on from quilts, having passed through “thermal blankets” to no-fuss, easy-to-make-the-bed duvet covers. Now, years later, preparing for a cross-country move, I behold my legacy of quilts. “Sunbonnet Sue,” the first quilt my mother made at age 12. Double Wedding Ring, Tumbling Blocks, Nine Patch, Ocean Waves — all works of art that have made me reconsider blankets and duvet covers. These quilts were made to be used, not kept in closets or boxes, so I’ve chosen the ones that will become part of our daily lives, and which I’ll sell on Etsy to others who will use and appreciate them.

Twenty minutes away from my house is Lowell’s New England Quilt Museum, which features more than 400 antique and contemporary quilts. For more than 25 years, the museum has used its exhibitions, programs and classes to show the artistic side of history, inviting visitors to “hear the stories inside the quilts.” The Merrimack Valley’s rich textile industry history shines in many museums, but perhaps most clearly, at the Quilt Museum, where if you listen closely, you can hear the stories of generations of hardworking people for whom quilts were a practical art form.

The Quilt Museum is currently hosting an exhibit of America’s Applique Quilts. It will be on display through December 31 and features quilts from a private collection of pieces made between 1850 and 1950. The exhibition includes Baltimore Album styles, four-block quilts, several examples of rose applique patterns and modern applique quilts in the pastels of the 1930s and ’40s.
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